Sam Gamgee as The Silmarillion’s ideal reader

In a 1963 letter Tolkien confessed that he was “doubtful” about his undertaking to write The Silmarillion. What did he mean by this? According to his son Christopher in the foreword to The Book of Lost Tales, his father was “emphatically not” referring to any doubts he had about the intrinsic merits of the work itself: “what was in question for him …was its presentation, in a publication, after the appearance of The Lord of the Rings…” As Tolkien himself wrote, the earlier legends were in dire need of “some progressive shape,” and yet, to his mind, “[n]o simple device, like a journey and a quest, is available.” As noted in the previous post, in The Lord of the Rings the device Tolkien employed to remarkable effect was the “the impression of depth… created by songs and digressions,” by which was achieved (in Christopher’s words) a “backward movement in imagined time to dimly apprehended events, whose attraction lies in their very dimness…” What would be similarly needed in The Silmarillion, accordingly, was “a point of vantage, in the imagined time from which to look back, the extreme oldness of the extremely old can be made apparent and made to be felt continuously.” Christopher confesses that at the time of preparing The Silmarillion for its posthumous publication in 1977, however, he unfortunately “attached no importance to this doubt” of his father’s regarding his legends ability to stand on their own. Tolkien himself had allowed his own initial forays into providing a framework to his legendarium to drop-out (namely the Eriol/Aelfwine saga), presumably on account of some perceived literary inadequacy. The result was that Christopher published The Silmarillion without any such framework that might explain what The Silmarillion is and “how (within the imagined world) it came to be,” an editorial lacuna Christopher now “think[s] to have been an error.” In the absence of said framework, Christopher office the reader this advice: “To read The Silmarillion one must place oneself imaginatively at the time of the ending of the Third Age—within Middle-earth, looking back: at the temporal point of Sam Gamgee’s ‘I Like that!’—adding, ‘I should like to know more about it’.” There it is: Sam Gamgee as The Silmarillion’s ideal reader.